Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Old Fashioned Way

Some time back I picked up a box set of W.C. Fields movies. One that I hadn't heard of before buying the set is The Old Fashioned Way.

Fields plays The Great McGonigle, the head of a traveling troupe of actors at the turn of the last century. (Any similarity to The Dresser ends right there.) McGonigle is a bit dishonest, although that's in part because the theater managers weren't always scrupulous either. McGonigle is trying to get out of town not having paid room and board, and the landlady has gotten a sheriff to look for McGonigle as he boards the train. McGonigle burns the summons he's about to be served with his cigar as the sheriff has his head turned the other way.

Eventually the troupe gets to their next stop, where they're going to be putting on a temperance play called The Drunkard. But there are problems. In addition to trying to get the money to put on the play, they're also short one cast member. However, a college boy, Wally Livingston (Joe Morrison), wants to be an actor, so he's willing to accept a tryout. Wally also falls in love with McGonigle's daughter Betty (Judith Allen). But neither Betty nor Wally's father thinks marrying into an acting troupe is a good idea.

There's also Mrs. Pepperday (Jan Duggan), whom McGonigle is trying to get the money from. She has no talent, being able neither to sing nor dance, but is insisting on getting a part in the play. She's also got an infant grandson who makes McGonigle's life hell over lunch.

Eventually the show gets put on, and it's interesting for audiences of today to see such a hoary old production. But there's an encore after the play that's even better: Fields comes back out and does some his old vaudeville stuff, juggling balls, followed by manipulating cigar boxes, the latter of which is really a sight to see.

There's not all that much to the plot of The Old Fashioned Way; like a lot of Fields' work it seems more a hook on which to hang a bunch of sketches than a fully coherent plot. But it all works more or less, and the vaudeville act at the end is worth the price of admission.

The box set as a whole is cheap, so even if you don't like this one, it's not as if you're out very much. But I can certainly recommend it more than some of the other Fields movies in the set.

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